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Sunday, 01 March 2015 22:00

Q&A: Tom Mathison, Rotary Club of Grand Rapids

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Tom Mathison, Rotary Club of Grand Rapids Tom Mathison, Rotary Club of Grand Rapids MIBIZ FILE PHOTO

Eight Grand Rapids-area Rotary Clubs united to launch a first-ever promotion for new members. The effort involves billboards that went up late last month featuring local Rotarians, radio ads that began airing this week, social media and a special website at, said Tom Mathison, the founder and principal at Mathison | Mathison Architects LLC and president of the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids. “We’re trying something new,” said Mathison, a 17-year Rotarian. The clubs involved in the campaign have 414 members between them, he said. He spoke last week with MiBiz about the campaign.

Why do the Rotary Clubs feel a need to recruit new members?

In any organization today, we have members who have been lifelong members and they are retiring or they are moving away, and so we’re looking to bring in new blood and replenish. We’re always looking for good new members. We live in a time that joining clubs and organizations might not be as popular of an idea as it used to be, so we’re looking for the right people to join us.

What’s really driving that? Is it a cultural change going on as the generations move through the ranks?

What you’re seeing is a new generation of leadership coming in. Rotary Clubs were built on business leaders coming together in different fields in order to tackle a problem using the combined expertise and resources of these various businesses to work out a problem. As business leaders move on, a whole new leadership group is coming into play now, and we want to make sure they consider Rotary as part of their growth and leadership and community service as they work their way through their careers.

Who are the new people you’re targeting?

These are young leaders, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re fresh faces, and they’re doing great things. We want them to be part of this organization that continues to impact not only the community but all around the world.

Are you targeting a specific age group?

We want everybody and for different reasons. In fact, a lot of our new members are people who have moved to the community, are in leadership roles, and may or may not have been a Rotarian in another place. They have come to Grand Rapids and have a new job in a new community, or they’re trying to form a new business and network for themselves, and this works very well into that kind of scenario.

Why do you think people don’t join clubs and organization the way they once did?

There are a lot of opportunities for people. When you look at organizations to possibly join, people scrutinize what that organization is actually doing and doing well. It’s not just meeting for meeting’s sake and it’s not just about fellowship, although fellowship is an important part of any organization.

For Rotary and other clubs, we have individuals who are busy. If you are a firm leader or business executive, your life is very busy, and so you have to make the value statement and you have to make the value proposition. Allowing people to understand what Rotary is doing in the community and around the world gets them more excited. I think why people don’t join clubs is largely an issue of time and wanting to make sure whatever time they do devote is making a difference.

What’s the expectation of somebody who may consider joining Rotary?

We expect people to want to participate, not just come for lunch but to get their hands dirty and work on a project, to join a committee, and to get involved in something that interests them in making a difference in our community and around the world.

What expectation should they have of Rotary?

They should expect that those opportunities are going to be worth their time, the fellowship is going to be worth their time, and their contribution is going to make a difference. Their expectation of our club should be to add to the organization, to add to the networking around the world, to be able to penetrate into a problem area through an organization that has far-reaching capabilities. It’s not just an organization that does good things but the organization allows us to make a bigger difference than we could as an individual club.

Why did you get involved in Rotary?

I became involved to be a mentor. We have a mentoring program and we mentor one-on-one to at-risk students who may not graduate. That is what drew me. Rotary gave me the tools and gave me the opportunity to make a difference. It was very practical.

How has being a part of Rotary affected you?

I took the structure of that program and I created another mentoring network in my own profession for students in architecture who need a mentor to help guide them through their profession. This was a network across the country. We involved four different schools of architecture, and every year we had 250 students and mentors from all over the country and in several other countries.
For me, that has been very, very satisfying and well worth the time of investing in somebody else. That kind of embodies what Rotarians are all about.

Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.


Read 2890 times Last modified on Sunday, 01 March 2015 22:20

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